• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

NON-NEWS SHOULD COST 'TEAM'

The IndyCar season began last weekend, after an off-season during which we learned that a track can be too good for racing (something I've never heard before having been in the sport for more than four decades), that Dallara's quality control systems aren't what they should be, that the car builder doesn't have the respect of its suppliers the way one would expect, that there are new rules and rules makers (and judges), and that the financial viability of many events isn't sound -- especially oval races.

The Big Talking Point for 2012 is engine manufacturer competition. Chevrolet won Round 1, in St. Pete, with Helio Castroneves.

One off-season news item that crackled my Business of Racing antenna had to do with a revision to the series' TEAM program. Others have written at length regarding the details of this deal, which pays $1.2 million to included teams. When Newman/Haas Racing announced it would not compete in '12, that left open two spots. Randy Bernard decided to establish some standards, including what a potential participant could bring to IndyCar in terms of sponsor activation and media exposure. I say that's entirely justified.

The problem is, some of Randy's teams don't have a clue how to get media coverage. The old-school art of "pitching" story ideas seems as foreign as Rubens Barrichello to a lot of people. Some don't even know the basics of writing a proper news release. Of particular irritation to me is the winning team whose new "publicist" constantly sends out useless non-news releases that always begin by saying the team is "proud" or "excited" to announce something or other. I got another one of these last Thursday during the run-up to St. Pete.

Clue I: It would be NEWS if the team WASN'T "proud" or "excited."

Clue II: Successful publicists know news releases are written for the media, not team owners or sponsors.

Stuff like this is a complete waste of the media's time. As soon as I see something like this, I press "delete." And I know I'm not the only one who does the same.

Note to Randy: Any "professional" IndyCar team that can't prove it has a publicist who has passed a basic Newswriting 101 course should not get one single cent.


Sorting out racing penalties is always a messy affair -- the 1981 Indianapolis 500 forever being the ultimate example -- but the outcome of Hendrick Motorsports' appeal of NASCAR penalties to its No. 48 at Daytona is instructive. Or, it should be.

Come this off-season, NASCAR should revise its National Stock Car Commission structure and policies. The three panelists, selected from an established list, are not announced in advance (fine with me) but as soon as I saw that John Capels and Leo Mehl were on the Hendrick case, it was no surprise at all that the original penalties were upheld. Beyond their other resume items, both are old-school/tradition-bound former sanctioning body executives. Of course they were going to side with NASCAR.

It's time to reduce the total number on the commission list. It's time to say no more than one member per hearing can be linked to any one group. (Examples: No more than one former sanctioning official, no more than one former driver, no more than one former team member, etc.) And, in all phases of the case, at least one of the "judges" should be made available to the media immediatley afterwards so the ticket-buying public can understand why the decision was made. That's called transparency -- and it's greatly needed in racing's messy penalty appeal process.

Meanwhile, see this week's "Unconventional Wisdom".


FAST LINES: ABC kicked-off its IndyCar coverage by telling the media it would focus on "story-telling." Hmmmm. See my Sept. 6, 2010 blog, which won an International Automotive Media Awards gold medal for commentary . . . If, like me, you need a one-stop reference book, then you need the National Speedway Directory. There's a listing for just about every track in the U.S. and Canada, plus sanctioning organizations, publications, schedules and museums. Go to http://speedwaysonline.com/to order . . . Per what I wrote last week, NHRA has added 20 pounds to the Harley-Davidson bikes . . . As a follow-up to what I wrote last week, one of the top teams in all of American racing now has its PR people compile reports after each race detailing interviews, media contacts, etc. I'm surprised they are just starting to do this as I was routinely doing such reports for clients back in the 1980s. But I see this as welcome progress and will continue to press the decision-makers for more -- and better -- "service" to the media . . . I just received a letter from "Friends of Rick Hendricks" asking for my vote for the 10-time NASCAR Cup champion for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Twice in the letter he is referred to as "Hendricks." Embarrassing.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, March 18, 2012

HOW OBVIOUS IS THIS?

It's called customer service. And there's not enough of it throughout American business these days, including the lack-of-service from auto racing PR people to their customers, the media.

I've experienced this -- AGAIN -- in recent weeks. I wouldn't need the fingers on one hand to count the team/sponsor/sanction PRers who called in advance of the NHRA Nationals at Firebird International Raceway and the NASCAR weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. That exact number would be THREE. In total.

And how many actually came by the Arizona Republic work areas at those two events to say hello and offer help? That exact number would be NINE. In total.

Now, I've spent a little time myself in the racing PR game. Could someone please explain to me how someone can be paid to be a "publicist" and yet never speak to media covering an event?

This problem isn't new, but it is getting worse. As I've said before, I blame the team owners and sponsor managers who apparently pay so little attention they don't realize how badly they are being represented. And, believe it or not, my experience is some of the biggest teams/sponsors are the worst offenders.

It used to be a company would hire it's own PR rep, or contract with an agency, to service the media in support of a sponsorship. While there was always the problem of some agency person "pitching" a racing story one minute, and soap the next, the system usually worked because the sponsor had direct control over its representation and that provided accountability.

A lot of the time, anyway. But not always. Before last October's Arizona Nationals, I received an E-mail (in response to one I had sent a week earlier) from Ford's agency rep, asking if I'd be on-site at the event that began the next day. !!! Nothing like doing your homework well in advance to know what media will be there to work with! At least that was better than Ford's on-site "representation" at PIR the other week -- three days came and went without one word from the automaker's transcriber (who provided material in a user-unfriendly format) -- who sat just a few feet away from the Republic's area.

Actually TALK to journalists? Hell, why would he think THAT was important to do?

Some years ago, team owners decided to create in-house PR staffs -- a new profit center for them. Shame on the sponsors who blindly went along with this. These team people take their orders from the owner, who more often than not, doesn't want the driver bothered with such nonsense as interviews that might help produce publicity for the bill-paying sponsor. (Gotta carry the driver's helmet, you know.) This is how the system started to fall apart. That, and the reckless practice of allowing driver business managers to make PR decisions which they are unqualified to make. From a media standpoint, I'll say this loud and clear: That is a something that is to be resisted at every turn.

The humanity is disappearing from this sport, and in general, our society. Way too many people think 140 characters on Twitter represents professional relationship building. As I said to a senior NASCAR official in a private, one-on-one, face-to-face conversation at PIR: There will NEVER be a substitute for the sound of the human voice, a handshake, a look in the eye.

THAT is professional relationship building.

If you need more proof, read this: http://dkconcepts.com/fortheloveofracing/publicist-publicity

As the late Maine U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith once said: "There is nothing more effective than a handshake and a little conversation."

When -- if EVER -- will racing's PR people learn this basic truth? I am, and will continue, working on this issue at high levels of the sport's decision-making chain.


FAST LINES: The Formula One season opened with some of the ugliest cars in the series' history and Ferrari in disarray -- both BAD news for the Business of Racing . . . The film Senna is now available on DVD. Learn more at http://www.sennamovie.com/ . . . Troubled Circuit of the Americas didn't renew its funding for Rick Benjamin's The Checkered Flag post-Formula One show on SiriusXM. That, of course, makes no sense since this is the payoff year after last season's investment in trying to build American interest in F1 -- but that's the way it's been with the CotA project since Day One . . . Speed's horribly over-produced opening for the Australian Grand Prix, featuring six former world champions, was just the latest example of this trend to grotesquely overdo things in TV. KISS . . . The news that Paul Brooks is ending his long tenure with NASCAR as senior vice president and president of NASCAR Media Group is a very important story and comes at a time when the media landscape is changing almost daily and talks are underway for a new TV deal for 2015. Despite the Daytona 500's impressive Monday Night NASCAR prime-time TV total audience, ratings through three races are down from last year's uptick season, a worry . . . Will the automakers who turned down the chance to power the DeltaWing turn out to be biz savvy or PR blind? Nissan took the plunge and the radical car made some demonstration laps at Sebring last weekend . . . Hendrick Motorsports' penalty appeal was denied, which is what most often will happen when two of the three panelists are former sanctioning body executives . . . Good for IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway they have a deal with DreamWorks Animation for a July 2013 animated feature film, Turbo. But it's ridiculous for the media cheerleaders to be pumping this up like it's going to do for that series what Days of Thunder did for NASCAR. Those of us with good memories recall some of these same people predicting that's what Driven would do for Champ Car.


[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, March 11, 2012

WRETCHED EXCESS

It's standard practice at every NASCAR race: Drivers high in the point standings, or otherwise newsworthy, are made available to the media for group sessions either in the press room or at their haulers. It's known in the biz as a "media avail."

It was no different at Phoenix International Raceway the other week, where I was part of the Arizona Republic's coverage team. Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, etc. fielded questions. I was there for some of these sessions and not for some others, but had a chance to review transcripts.

To me, the most noticeable thing was not any answer. It was the questions. At virtually every avail, somebody asked a Danica question.

It was absolutely ridiculous. And embarrassing.

If many of those involved would actually bother to step back and take a look at the situation with a wider perspective, they might realize the truth of what I just wrote. But too many -- and too many of the organizations they represent -- are so caught-up in the Danica "story" (by the way, just what is that "story" right now?) they have lost almost all perspective and judgement of what is legitimate news.

In fairness, there also were a lot of questions about Brad Keselowski's Tweeting during the Daytona 500 red flag. More of what I'll hearby anoint as "cotton candy journalism."

Mark Martin made fun of the nonsense when, at the end of his pole winner's news conference, he referred to himself as a "Tweeting fool."

No wonder every public opinion poll shows such low standing for the media. And, despite what way too many of them think, this applies to sportswriters -- not just news reporters.

Let's get serious, folks.

PLEASE!


Speaking of ridiculous, add to the list all this chatter that Rubens Barrichello will do for the IndyCar series what Nigel Mansell did for CART.

Let me tell you, as someone who was deeply involved as the Newman/Haas team publicist when Nigel was here, there is NO -- ZERO -- COMPARISON.

Mansell came to America as the reigning Formula One world champion -- an unprecedented switch of series. He also could be controversial, charming, and had a flair that led to more than one headline calling him "The People's Champion."

Now, I like Rubens. I think he's a good guy, a good driver, and a welcome addition to the U.S. sporting scene. But he's not what Mansell was and to suggest otherwise is as dumb as all the Danica questions at NASCAR news conferences.

The "deep thinkers" like to point at all the Twitter followers Barrichello has. My questions: Just how MANY of those followers are in America? In IndyCar race market areas? Where they might actually buy tickets or move the TV ratings needle?

Mansell moved both meters. That's the point -- from a Business of Racing standpoint -- the only one that counts.


FAST LINES: Sports Business News picked-up my Republic notebook item on Matt Kenseth being the "Best Buy" in NASCAR . . . Pathetic, but true -- There are still media people and chatroomers talking about Jimmie Johnson and/or Tony Stewart driving in the Indy 500. They've said "no" how many ??? times now? And, in Johnson's case, if his wife didn't want him to do it before, why would she be in favor now, after the events of Las Vegas 2011? Enough already . . . Since I've been writing about, or otherwise around, Roger Penske since the 1970s this caught my attention -- Saturday, May 26 (day before the I500) will be "Legends Day Honoring Roger Penske" at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's the 40th anniversary of Penske's first I500 win, with Mark Donohue. There will be a Q&A and autograph session . . . The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the No. 1 sporting event to attend in the world, according to a new National Geographic book. (The Olympics are No. 2.) No other auto racing event made the list . . . Four new members (including Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Jeff Belskus) have been added to the Hulman & Co. board of directors, bringing the total to 11. The only question is: Does this strengthen or weaken Tony George's hand?

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Monday, March 05, 2012

PHOENIX WEEK IN REVIEW

I'm posting Sunday night after covering the Subway 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. I've listed a selection of links below if you'd like to read some of my Arizona Republic stories.

One important bit of news coming this week is the Hendrick Motorsports' appeal of NASCAR penalties to Chad Knaus, etc. My impression -- from what I was told off-the-record last weekend, and reading between the lines of some on-the-record comments, as well as assessing body language, is whatever penalty Knaus and team may end up with will not be to the degree originally announced.

Monday notebook (Monday Night NASCAR TV, etc.) --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/03/04/20120304nascar-more-weeknight-racing-after-daytona-500.html

Monday, Jimmie Johnson sidebar --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/03/04/20120304nascar-jimmie-johnson-phoenix-loose-wheel.html


Sunday Q&A with A.J. Allmendinger --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/03/03/20120303qampa-nascar-sprint-cup-driver-aj-allmendinger.html

Sunday notebook (Kurt Busch, jet dryers, etc.) --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/03/03/20120303nascar-kurt-busch-hoping-phoenix-racing-will-help-him-rise.html

Sunday, Sadler wins Nationwide race --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/03/03/20120303nascar-nationwide-phoenix-elliott-sadler.html

Saturday notebook (Chad Knaus, etc.) --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/03/02/20120302nascar-chad-knaus-surprised-by-suspension.html

Friday notebook (Roger Penske, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, etc. You won't read this lead anywhere else) --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/03/02/20120302nascar-phoenix-roger-penske-switch-ford-sprint-cup-series.html

Thursday notebook (Matt Kenseth, Kenny Francis, Rusty Wallace, etc.) --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/02/29/20120229matt-kenseth-best-buy-nascar.html

Wednesday notebook (Track prep, fuel injection, etc.) --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/02/28/20120228nascar-pir-delays-wont-slow-us.html

[ more next Monday . . . ]